Fellow Since 2014
V Citizens Action Network
This profile was prepared when Indrani Malkani was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
As more Indians migrate to cities, local municipalities are struggling to effectively respond to cities growing challenges. To prepare for future mega cities, Indrani is developing new relationships that enable local governments co-create solutions along with citizens.
The New Idea
Indrani is enabling the Government to break the deadlock in relations with citizens. By creating necssary capacity, tools and motivation in citizens and governments, she is helping the government break the existing apathy and build trust of the public to not just demand action, but also prototype solutions together with the government. Rather than servicing or handholding citizens, Indrani believes that citizens should be equipped and challenged to engage with the local authorities to address a range of civic issues affecting them. Buidling on her years of experience in working successfuly with various departments to solve different public issues and influence policies, she is building an interactive platform that guides citizens on ‘how to’ to address isses of safety, security, waste, traffic, legal and other issues affecting their everyday lives. She is also integrating this platform with the Government systems to allow citizens to communicate and co-create solutions with them. As pressures on a city grow, this new model of public / citizen advocacy that creates concrete solutions and puts them in the hands of the government is going to become critical in creating smart cities. Through the portal, Indrani aims to reach and accelerate the journey of other motivated citizens in Mumbai and other cities in India.
India is a rapidly urbanizing nation. According to 2001 census, approximately 28% of Indian population lived in urban areas and by 2021, this is expected to reach 40%. Some cities in India in particular witness large-scale rural-urban migration. Witnessing the fastest rate of urbanization in the world, as per 2011 census, Delhi's population rose by 4.1%, Mumbai's by 3.1% and Kolkata’s by 2% as per 2011 census compared to 2001 census. Estimated population, at the current rate of growth, by year 2015, Mumbai stands at 25 million, Delhi and Kolkata at 16 million each, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad at 10 million.This rapid growth has resulted in a huge strain on existing physical infrastructure, public transportation, sanitation and natural resource systems. Power short-ages, mismanagement of monsoon deluges, collapse of law and order, trafﬁc systems, pollution and congestion area few of the innumerable instances that expose the fundamental issues in the delivery of services in urban India. Overcrowding is endemic and the urban poor suffer from inadequate housing and poor basic services provisioning. Broken Governmental systems and lack of citizen participation both contribute to this. Most Municipalities in India lack the systems, processes and solutions to address the growing pressues on the cities. Planning of rescourses, budgets and development is also not coordinated between various departments of the Municipalities. Citizens, without the skills and knowledge to navigate government systems, also tend to fend for themselves rather than contribute to their locality. This has resulted in a trust deficit between service providers (the Government and private) and the citizens. The lack of spaces to engage constructively has resulted in a complete breakdown of relationship between the citizens and their local governments. To mitigate the strains that will develop as cities expand, and to maximize the potential economic opportunity that well-managed cities can offer, India urgently needs to tap into its citizenry and explore ways in which they can proactively work with their local governance structures to address the challenges of urbanization.
To return dignity and trust in the local governments, Indrani believes in engaging and equipping local authorities to better respond to the needs of the city. Rather than creating a parallel system of service delivery or organization, she leverages the existing resources (monetary and non-monetary) of the government to solve the cities biggest challenges. Her experience in co-creating and handing over solutions to the Government to address waste, traffic, elections, disaster management, safety among others in this manner has given her key insights on successful strategies to working with local governments. First, she sees a non-confrontational approach to working with local governments as being most effective. Second, she recognizes that it is critical to identify and engage the bright spots in the public and private system to create concrete solutions that can be taken forward by existing public and private stakeholders. Third, it is critical to build skills of necessary stakeholders and build ownership. Lastly, it is important to institutionalize the solution by pushing for appropriate policy and structures that can monitor the solution.For example, to ensure that children have access to a safe, accountable and efficient school bus system, Indrani conceptualized and put in place the in the model school bus system. Working in collaboration with schools, Mumbai Traffic Police and bus operators, she designed a system of incentives and checks and balances that create a win-win for all, parents, schools, bus operators and traffic authorities. Under the model school bus system, schools act on behalf of parents to engage operators and administer the system. In return for a nominal commission from operators, the school administers the entire system and employs software to manage data. This allows for better planning of routes to ensure children are picked from safe spots and spend the least possible time on the road. With schools requiring all children to use the faclities, the routes became more viable and boosted the incomes of bus operators. This in turn, provides sufficient incentive for them to maintain upgraded vehicles and comply with safety standards. Operators are required to maintain first aid boxes, fire extinguishers and contact and blood group children in the bus. Apart from ensuring safety of children, it has also helped decongest busy roads by taking thousands of vehicles off the street twice a day. With 25 schools in Mumbai adopting this model, Indrani successffuly advocated for the the Government of Maharashtra to adopt her model this as a state policy. To incentivize bus operators to comply to safety standards, Indrani has also successfully advocated for a reduction in tax paid (by nearly 90%) by bus operators. She is now working with the Regional Transport Offices and other departments towards its effective implementation in the State and is exploring strategies to scale the idea to other parts of India.In another instance, post the Mumbai floods of 2005, Indrani started working with the local government to enhance disaster preparedness. She facilitated a partnership between the Municipality and the HAM (amateur radio operators) Association, to relay information during floods. Building on this, she has also developing Community Resiliency Indicators (CRI) to assess the level (or index) of resiliency of a community in the event of a disaster. Indrani has co-created other solutions that address other civic issues along with neighbourhood groups, local authorities and private operators. Each of these solutions were ultimately led by the local authorities. To create a force multiplier of her offline efforts and insights, she is now buidling a web portal that equips citizens with the knowledge to deal with challenges that affect their daily lives. The portal shares and simplifies the systems and procedures of multiple government departments and agencies on a single platform. This includes information on range of issues including, how to keep their homes and neighborhoods safe and secure, access public records, get permits and licenses and engage with different arms of the government. Through an interactive map the portal guides people how to navigate issues they and their community faces and complement the Governments activities. Indrani is now in discussions with the Mumbai Municipality and the Directorate of Information Technology, Government of Maharashtra, to integrate the portal with the systems of local authorities. In particular, she is exploring ways to integrate the map with the grievance redressal cell of the Mumbai Municipality (MCGM). She is designing the portal to bring citizens and Government closer to each other and empower people to share their views amongst each other. Through this, she is envisions identifying and building a network of active citizens, who can not only address their own challenges but also assist their community in dealing with issues.
Indrani was schooled at Loreto Convent and later the Loreto College, in Kolkata. Born in a rather privileged family, the convent opened another world for Indrani. She had as her peers and her closest friends, girls who were from far less privileged backgrounds or orphaned. She shared her birthday celebrations with them and her parents ensured their gifts and clothes were similar. Her schooling laid the foundation to her to her perspective to the world. Indrani assumed several leadership roles through school and college. In an all English College, she started the Bengali debating team and actively debated.Upon graduation, she joined the Taj Palace Convention Hotel in New Delhi as the head of hotel reservation and banquet sales department. Her ability to think on her feet, problem-solve and engage effectively with staff and clients helped her rise quickly to become the Conventions and Conference Manager. Once she was called to run Taj Group’s Lexington Hotel in New York, when all the employees were on strike. She had to run the hotel with skeleton staff. Her stint at the Taj developed her ability to effectively deal with people, see different perspective to problems and trouble shoot matters effectively. After taking time to raise her son, Indrani began engaging with initiatives at her neighborhood in 2000. She led the formation of the Advance Locality Management committee (ALM or local residents groups that work in partnership with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation of Mumbai Committee) in her neighborhood. She first targeted challenges with the inefficient waste collection system of going door to door and the indignity of the municipality workers in dealing with the waste. To address this, she convinced her neighborhood to segregate waste at source, aggregate such waste at smaller pockets before being collected by the municipality. Next, to resolve conflict between street hawkers and residents, she created a hawker zone, allotted spaces for individual hawkers. She got the community to see hawkers as service providers and even allotted hawkers individual IDs as “Malabar Hill Volunteers”. The municipality took these simple solutions of integrated relay transport system of segregated waste and hawking zone forward. Even today, the system continues Seeing the power of ALM’s to partner with the municipality, Indrani then worked with the Mumbai Municipality to draft the ALM Manual Document, which is today in public domain. Indrani slowly expanded her horizons beyond her immediate neighbourhood. She engaged actively in a petition before the High Court to clean and improve the Chowpatty beach in Mumbai and resolve the conflict between the street hawkers on the beach and the municipality. She worked with a reputed architect to prepare the Master Plan for the beach, that involved zoning, removal of encroachments and regulations on usage of the beach. This was accepted by the High Court and is the approved reference document. Along with other key persons, she was appointed a member of the Committee constituted by the High Court, to implement and sustain the plan. She built a strong partnership with the municipality, collector and police while working to solve several administrative challenges in the implementation. Indrani’s passion for civic engagement, led her to also actively engage with the election process along with the Chief Election Officer (Maharashtra) and the Collector’s Office to increase number of people voting. She undertook the exercise of auditing and appraising the suitability of the polling stations and polling booths and later also leveraged the human resources in cooperative housing societies, for the first time, to play a role generate authentic data about voters. These efforts were extremely successful in improving voter turnouts. Indrani’s engagement with the school bus system came, when she witnessed first hand how her neighbourhood was directly affected by the traffic during school hours. The process of influencing parents to ‘let go’ of their children and work with operators and traffic policy was transformative for her. Indrani’s ability to effectively work in partnership with the Government, look at all perspectives of a problem and offer solutions that are practical carved a path for wider engagement with the Government on civic issues. She a member of the Road Safety Patrol Traffic Advisory Committee, Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority and the Think Tank on Mumbai Traffic and Transport issues, Indrani continues to advocate for safe and efficient transport system.